My friend and Hollins University colleague, Hillary Homzie, is here today to talk about her latest release from Sky Pony Press, Pumpkins Spice Secrets...

Gratitude, Loss and Joy this Holiday Season
Hillary Homzie

      Last month two things happened to me simultaneously. My new middle grade, Pumpkins Spice Secrets, released and California Wine Country where I live caught on fire. To call it anything less than a horror, would be an understatement. Forty-three lives were claimed, 3 billion dollars worth of property damage. 245,00 acres burned. 90,000 people were displaced. Hundreds and hundreds of houses were burned. Entire neighborhoods went up in smoke.
      My family was lucky. We were mandatorily evacuated for a week and then returned to a yard full of ash but our house still stood and suffered no significant damage other than some mildly smoke-y walls. Other friends weren’t so lucky. They lost not just their houses, but their wedding albums, their artwork, and their family heirlooms.
      It was during this period that I had a lovely new middle grade book to celebrate. A book that had received positive reviews, including one in School Library Journal.
      However, I didn't feel like celebrating.
      I, along with all of the other residents in Napa and Sonoma County, were in a deep sense of shock and grief. In so many neighborhoods, it looked as if a bomb had gone off. How could I celebrate anything when so many had lost so much?
      At first, I considered canceling my October launch party at Copperfield’s Books on October 21. While the fires had mostly been put out, the air was still smoke filled and school wouldn’t start--after a two weeks hiatus--until that Monday.
      Would having a party to celebrate the release of a light-hearted but realistic look at middle grade friendships and crushes be disrespectful? A book where the worst problem is that seventh grader Maddie Campbell is having trouble confessing to her more socially successful best friend Jana Patel that they like the same boy, as well as dealing with her fear of public speaking. Wouldn’t anyone come to my launch?
      I guess I worried that I hadn’t written an important book. A big book about the issues of the day or the tragedies. There were no morally ambiguous politicians, no hurricanes, floods or fires.
      I had written a realistic snapshot of middle school.
      That was all.
      To my surprise and astonishment, folks did come to my launch. Quite a few. Everyone who came had been affected by the fires. They were folks who had been displaced, and they came with their masks in tow. Others had lost their houses. And they came. To my launch.
      I was awestruck. And humbled.
      And I learned something.
      Once people are safe, once they having all the necessary things like clean air to breath, food, a place to sleep, food and clothing, they want to celebrate life. They want to be in a place of joy. They long to laugh.
      And that celebrating fun books that encourage kids to read, especially the less avid readers, is not something to put off. Or feel any shame in.
      At the reading, so many of my friends were all smiles. While they had lost their possessions, they were safe. And most everyone said “it was just stuff.” Furthermore, they felt a deep sense of gratitude to the community for all the support they had received, and wanted to get out and connect with others and bond over books. Some even confessed that the fires had given them a second chance, an opportunity to refresh and start anew.
      Ultimately, although the fires were tragic, with will and determination, there will be a happy ending for most of the people of wine country.
      And in books for young people, while it’s imperative to have narratives that show some of the darker and unwelcome sides, it’s also a service to have books that offer pure pleasure, books that kids read when they’re feeling down and want to be lifted up. Books that are like pure comfort food or in the case of Pumpkin Spice Secrets, a sip of your favorite steaming hot beverage.
      To find out more about the book, go to the Sky Pony Press website.
      Happy holidays everyone!

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